Worthy in and of itself

Via @art_for_breakfast

While I was on holiday last month, I re-read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. I first read it years ago, in high school, and in the intervening years, I’d become such a fan of Bourdain’s enormous presence in the world that I forgot perhaps the most important thing about him: The man could really write.

His writing, of course, is why he became the sensation he did. (If you don’t know the backstory of how we went from middling chef, to New Yorker-published writer, to worldwide publishing sensation, it’s worth listening to him tell it in his own words). What struck me while reading his words is that his unmistakable writing voice was clearly fully-formed way before he became a household name. The only reason we got to know about it is because, after those 15 hour shifts, he sat down to write.

Part of the reason so many of us love Bourdain, I suspect, is that it was pretty clear he never wanted to be famous. His unfailing humility was always rooted in the fact that he never expected any of this to happen to him. As he wrote in the chapter of his book when he gets sent to Tokyo to overhaul the branch of Les Halles there, “Though the game had long since gone into overtime, I still had a few moves left in me, and I was content to play them out where I started — New York City, the place I believed, heart and soul, to be the center of the world.” He wrote not out of aspiration, but because he simply wanted to. The fact that those same words had such an impact on the world was an entirely separate phenomenon from the act of creating them.

It begs the question: What are the rest of us not doing outside of our day jobs that we should be doing? I don’t mean side hustles and businesses and potentially money-making ventures that neoliberalism has romanticized into something other than just working all the time. I mean, what are we just doing for the hell of it? Because we feel in our marrow we have to? Because we’re simply curious about it? Because it helps us make sense of the world? Because creation is an act worthy in and of itself, even if no one ever sees the result of it?

I’ve been trying to drill down into this question recently, making time in my life for writing and doing things that won’t necessarily get me anywhere, but just feel good to do. I’m lucky that I have a day job that is often creative, but to be honest, I don’t think the full breadth of my creativity can be contained within the rules of journalism, within the confines of the workday.

The professionalization of creativity has robbed us, I think, of the sense that writing and drawing and painting and creating in our spare time isn’t just a lark or a waste of time; it’s nourishing and worthy of our attention. If we spend time making something (cakes, watercolors, ceramics) everyone starts pressuring us to sell it, promote it, spin into something lucrative. Then we do that, it becomes a job, and we spend more time facilitating that job than doing the thing. We should resist this, I think. The act of creating is more important than the result.

Things I Wrote

  • After America’s mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso a couple weeks ago, I couldn't stop thinking about what kind of travel advisory the U.S. State Department would issue for a country that had experienced 253 mass shootings since January 1. So I wrote a column.

  • With my colleague in Singapore, I co-wrote a deep dive on what the tense (and escalating) situation in Hong Kong might mean for its travel industry — and indeed its future as a SAR.

  • I interviewed Jen Rubio, co-founder of Away Travel and truly a preternaturally great mind when it comes to building a brand in the internet age. (Also worth listening to her episode of How I Built This).

  • Does it make sense to tax tourists if you also want them to keep booking trips to your destination? I investigated the paradox of tourism taxes.

  • I also went on Canada’s public radio broadcaster, CBC, to talk about Instagram’s effect on tourism (no, I do not think Instagram is to blame for overtourism).

Things I read:

  • “Once a belief is incorporated into someone’s identity, it’s very hard to counter.” On chronic lyme disease becoming a kind of identity. [The Cut]

  • I don’t believe in love at first sight, but this story makes me want to believe it. [Washington Post]

  • I’ve been obsessed with walking lately, usually working in a two mile walk after work to wherever I’m going next (including home). I think it’s totally underrated as a form of exercise, and so I’m glad to hear this expert does too. [The Guardian]

  • I’ll admit that I have, on more than one occasion, complained about the lack of AC in Europe. But this piece makes great points about the insanity of cranking AC as the world burns. [The Guardian]

  • “So doesn’t it break your heart that there are those that don’t feel that yoga is for them?” Yes, it does. I love this piece and this philosophy of yoga, which is from the blog of the studio where I practice. [Yoga on the Lane]

  • I read this piece years ago when it was assigned during the first week of student newspaper in university. It resurfaced on my Twitter feed recently and, after re-reading 11 years later, it remains one of the most harrowing features I’ve ever read. [Washington Post]

  • While it makes me super sad to think about the beaches I grew up on ceasing to exist because of climate change (which is already happening) I find a weird relief in the idea that the planet is going to force us to confront this problem whether we can intellectually grapple with it or not. Nevertheless, this is a grim peek into that future. [Los Angeles Times]

  • If you care to indulge your optimism for a moment, consider: “These are the dying days of a rancid old order.” [The Observer]

One podcast for good measure

A lot of hyped investigative podcasts these days are pretty bad, with shoddy reporting and blatantly unethical standards. (Same with that Netflix documentary “Hacked.” It’s garbage imo.) This podcast is not like that. The Bellingcat is an open-source investigative journalism outfit, and their five year investigation into the downing of MH-17 is a mammoth feat. I’ve been walking around London to it all week. [Bellingcat]

Lifestyle tip

I realized I have never promoted other newsletters in this here newsletter so I am going to do that now: Luke Leighfield’s Friday “Ten Things” newsletter is a reliably crisp list of links where I always find a few things I hadn’t yet seen. My former colleague Ali Griswold’s Oversharing newsletter is a must-read if you are interested in understanding the inanity of Silicon Valley startup giants, tech bros, and their magical fairy dust IPOs. Ali is a great reporter and utterly ruthless with these dudes, and I enjoy it very much.

Word Soup:

“In spite of illness, in spite even of the arch-enemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid to change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, happy in small ways.” —Edith Wharton

“Our days are limited on the earth. We may – for the sake of true riches – willingly, and with no loss of dignity, opt to become a little poorer and more obscure.” —The School of Life

Convenience is the thief of pleasure

(painting by Luchita Hurtado)

Katy Bowman is an author and biomechanist who I first interviewed a few years ago. She espouses the idea that, just as we need a wide array of nutrients from our diet, so too do we need to move our bodies in a wide variety of ways. The more modern conveniences fill our lives, she says, the less we move the way our bodies were designed to. This manifests in everything from the micro—the automated car door means we don’t lift up our arm to slam it shut—to the macro—the knowledge economy jobs that mean we don’t have to get up from our desks to do … anything.

Once I learned this a few years ago, I felt like I couldn’t un-see it. I see it in the way we cram an hour of pain-filled, high intensity exercise rather than spending two and a half hours leisurely walking to and from work everyday (that would be more movement, after all). The way westerners/Europeans invented seated toilets, thereby robbing ourselves of our ability to perform one of our bodies most fundamental postures. The way we buy carrot sticks wrapped in plastic even though they taste horrible compared to a carrot you have to actually wash, and peel, and cut (all of which requires movement, by the way!) before eating it. The way we hire people to clean our homes even though there is no better exercise or sense of satisfaction than that which you get from a day of scrubbing.

We do all this, of course, in the name of saving time. Time that we can use on other things, like progressing in our careers or side hustles, watching Netflix, raising high-achieving children, and doing expensive 45 minute exercise classes. More or less to progress in the capitalist game we’re all obliged to play. But I’ve been thinking recently that Bowman’s theory could be taken one step further: that time-saving conveniences don’t just rob us of the movement our body craves, but of pleasure, too.

The curious thing about pleasure is we often associate it with bad or frivolous things: Hedonism, wealth, selfishness, addiction, gluttony. We assume people who lead pleasure-centric lives are, at some level, corrupt or selfish or shallow or unambitious.

But I think we have this all wrong. That true pleasure—the kind that isn’t aspirational or status-bearing or materialistic or a form of sinister escapism—can be nourishing, restorative, generous. In other words, nothing but really good for us.

Summer is the prime time to revel in the pleasures that convenience regularly robs us of. In London, where it doesn’t get dark until 10pm, the long days offer an expanse of hours that make work life balance seem easily attainable. I don’t really want to do anything other than read a book in the park with a beer, and so I don’t. I don’t need to save time—in fact, at the moment it feels like I have lots of time. To work on random projects, to swim in the ladies pond or laze in the park, to make extremely over the top summer salads with whatever is in season.

With the exception of moving flats and going on a holiday next week, I have zero social or ambitious plans for this summer. It feels great. I know it’s not particularly novel these days to endorse the idea of being less busy, but I’m gonna say it anyway: Make no plans. Spend your day doing exactly what feels appealing to you on that day. Make time for pleasure. It’s a quietly radical act.

Things I wrote in my first six (!) weeks at Skift

ICYMI, I started a new job last month (more on that here). I’ve really been enjoying writing on my beat so far and spending my days reporting the stories below.

  • I wrote about why Unesco's recent choice not to add Venice to its list of endangered World Heritage Sites is political and possibly misguided. (This was really fascinating to report.)

  • It’s summer so everyone is writing about overtourism. I wrote about how this is an issue that’s way more complex than the media often allows. In other words I’m giving you permission to feel less guilty about going on vacation.

  • In June, the executive committee of one of the largest travel companies in the world (Carnival Corp.) pled guilty before a judge to six counts of violating probation for environmental crimes. It was the third time they’ve been tried for the same crime in 20 years. But will cruisers ever care about the environmental impact of their beloved vacation? Eh.

  • If you are a certain type of person, I’m guessing a lot of your hip friends are telling you about their recent amazing vacation in Tbilisi, Georgia. Turns out, Russia is using Georgia’s strikingly successful tourism industry as a way to issue low-key sanctions. (Turns out covering tourism often means writing about geopolitics.)

  • The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is one of the city’s most popular (and crowded) tourist attractions. Two years ago, they did something radical: after record-breaking ticket sales, they admitted welcome an ever-greater number of visitors was unwise.

  • Did you know that the United States of America has a marketing department? But under Trump, “Brand USA”—and the very concept of marketing America to welcome foreigners—is floundering.

Also…

  • I’ve also been on TV a bit recently! I am loath to admit this because I’m afraid it makes me a clinical narcissist but … I enjoy going on live television. I went on Bloomberg (29:45) to talk about the US-China trade war’s effect on tourism and Sky News in the UK to talk about Airbnb.

  • One more thing: A lot of people send me emails asking how they can become a journalist. So I wrote down everything I’ve learned (the good, the bad, the ugly) in one place for efficiency. Feel free to forward it to journalism-inclined graduates in your life.

Things I read

  • On the practical and existential work of living day-to-day life in the age of climate despair. This piece ends up being more beautiful than depressing. [Australian National University]

  • I spent two weeks in New York this month and, well, Brexit aside, London is objectively better than New York. There—I said it. [Bloomberg]

  • Speaking of New York, buying lunch there is insane. I enjoyed this economics-driven breakdown of how the Manhattan lunch counter has changed in the age of $15 Sweetgreen salads. [The Margins]

  • I think of investigative reporting as a kind of superhero-like power. If that’s the case, Julie K Brown is Wonder Woman. [NYT]

  • This story about the Israel-sponsored Birthright trip, its flawed presentation of Palestine, and the objections of some Jewish millennials to it is fascinating. [NYT]

  • The gripping tale of rich Brooklynites and their insanely competitive and delusional pre-school drama. (This makes me never want to procreate.) [NY Magazine]

  • The Malaysia Airlines flight MH-370 mystery gets the William Langewiesche treatment. [The Atlantic]

Things to listen to

  • The music critic-turned-investigative reporter who uncovered (and has been doggedly covering since) the R Kelly story twenty years ago. Jaw dropping stuff. [Fresh Air]

  • Everyone who uses Facebook/Whatsapp/Instagram (so, all of us) should be following Casey Newton’s reporting on Facebook. [Fresh Air]

  • Brene Brown in conversation with Marc Maron. [WTF with Marc Maron]

  • The tonally-perfect David Remnick interviews AOC on the incredible, unimaginable year she’s had. [New Yorker Radio Hour]

  • Austin Kleon is a huge creative inspiration to me—I was so inspired by his latest book that I bought a set of watercolor paints—so I enjoyed hearing him muse on why creativity as a verb, not a noun. [Good Life Project]

Lifestyle endorsement

Follow my friend Katherine’s Instagram account devoted to the joys of second-hand shopping, The Junkyard Journals. Katherine taught me all that I know about thrifting when we used to trawl the thrift stores of the valley as high schoolers with freshly-minted drivers licenses. Now, she buys only second hand clothes for herself and her family and has really great ideas about how to integrate this habit in your own life.

Word soup

"When it’s done well then it can feel like you’re in the only place you want to be in the world at that moment. And the very best pubs are timeless places in which that moment seems like it could last forever." —In search of the perfect pub

“Daisy, someone who insists on the perfect conditions to make art isn’t an artist. They’re an asshole.” —Taylor Jenkins Reid

Thanks for reading. If you enjoy this newsletter, you can help me immensely by getting more people to subscribe to it. Forward it to your friends! Tell your social media herd! You can find the subscribe page here.

Saigon at sunset

I recently unearthed this picture of myself in the bowels of my Dropbox. It was taken in 2015 in Vietnam. I was 25—tanned, sweaty, and painfully full of street food. I’m pictured with my kind Airbnb host and her friend, a translation student, who I had recruited to be my paid interpreter for a story I was reporting about the economics of Ho Chi Minh City’s street food industry. Looking at this picture, it struck me how much my experience of “being a journalist” has changed in just a few short years.

Lots of people want to be journalists. There is no set way to get there, though getting an entry level job with no experience and working your way up is one option that seems all but dead. I know some people get there by getting the right fellowships and jobs straight out of the right university. Others spend a lot of money to go to journalism school and presumably meet the right people there. A lucky few write something at the right time and the weird, unpredictable internet machine leapfrogs them to recognition. I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say that I think a lot of the remaining paths require a fair amount of privilege or luck.

That said, I was never was the type of person who got awards, or grants, or paid fellowships, or scholarships (and trust me, I applied). Nor have I ever once gotten anything other than a rejection from a journalism job I applied for cold online. I had internships, sure, and though they led to bylines and great connections, they did not lead to a career in and of itself.

My significant degree of privilege certainly helped (schooling, being white, having great parents and two powerful passports, generous help from family/relatives here and there) but that aside, I got to where I am mostly by being scrappy. By having a bunch of jobs and living in small rooms with cheap rent while I freelanced on the side. It’s important to point out that all the economic anxiety of my twenties was a function of my own choices. In other words: I was broke, not poor—and I know there’s a big difference between those two things. But that still didn’t mean it was a breeze.

However, all of it was motivated by this desire to do the very thing I am doing in that picture above. To tell stories about the things I was curious about. To have a valid reason to do something like jet around Saigon on a motorbike to find out about other people’s lives. To be tenacious and tireless and to get it right. Back in 2015, to do that even part time, as a sliver of an otherwise pretty precarious life, felt like a huge privilege.

Since late 2017, when I got my first staff job, my reporting has become less Saigon at sunset and more calling large companies to ask for comment from my desk. (Though there was that time last year I went on a reporting trip on a cruise ship and got norovirus-like illness, which was pretty exciting by any standard). That said, even sitting at a desk, I still get a kick out of the enormous privilege of doing what I do every day. Of having a platform to write from, of asking people questions and them actually giving me answers, of wanting to know things and getting paid a salary to find them out.

It just so happens that as of next week, I’ll be doing that job at a new place. I’m joining the team at Skift to be their global tourism reporter, to focus on a beat that will encompass all sorts: the mind-boggling cruise industry, the ever-expanding juggernaut that is Airbnb, mass tourism/gentrification, the political nature of tourism marketing, the thorny concept of responsible travel etc. I’ve long admired how Skift covers the travel industry—with verve, and fearlessness, and an expansive view of why it matters—and I’m excited to be a part of that.

I’m so grateful for my year and a half at Quartz. I learned an enormous amount there and got to work with some of the smartest humans I’ve ever met. I also learned that, perhaps even more than writing, I really love the nitty gritty of reporting, even the unglamorous desk stuff. I’m excited for the opportunity to work on a defined beat at Skift and improve those skills by getting stuck into the kind of granular reporting that I didn’t always have the opportunity to do as a freelancer and on a more general lifestyle beat. When I find the time, I’ll also be working on some personal creative stuff, which may or may not see the light of day down the line. (I can’t remember what it’s like to write things just for fun, so I’m going to try and find out.)

That said, transitions are always kind of scary, aren’t they? I guess the picture above caught my eye because it’s a reminder to not take it all for granted: That every day there’s a story, and it’s my literal job to tell it. Twenty five year old me would be thrilled. And you know what? I think it’s pretty damn great too.

It’s been an unusual month, so I don’t have links of my own writing to share. (The ones that I do are behind a paywall). Extra links below to make up for it! Back to regular programming next time.

A robust grab-bag of links below to kick off your summer lounging

  • Most writing advice online is rubbish. This, on the other hand, is great. [NYTimes]

  • “I’ve said it before, but me just existing is revolutionary,” I am several months late to this party, but I just adore Lizzo and her music. This profile of her is joyous, as is her interview with Terry Gross. [The Cut]

  • What do healthy organisations/companies have in common? They “institutionalize the behaviour of speaking up.” [Harvard Business Review]

  • "Someone said to me, 'Are you still writing?' And I wanted to say, 'I guess you don't read The New York Times.’" May we all be as steadfast and productive as Danielle Steele, who has written 179 books. [Glamour]

  • “Most climate change threatens the poor first and most directly. But ... in Los Angeles, the wealthier you are, the likelier it is that you live in the hills — which is to say, in the line of fire.” A never-ending wild fire season is at once unimaginable and totally inevitable. [NY Mag]

  • I’m living for this evisceration of a rather famous author who couldn’t bother to get basic facts correct in his new book. (But don’t worry, Bill Gates endorsed it anyway. Sigh.) [NY Times]

  • Wow if you haven’t read BuzzFeed’s excellent investigation into Tony Robbins, do. Even more interesting is Robbin’s multi-pronged attempt to discount the reporting, which indicates to me that he doesn’t really understand how journalism works. [BuzzFeed]

  • Is there anything more taboo than a woman giving up her four year old daughter to focus on her art? This piece will stay with you. [Topic]

  • I’m so fascinated by the No Flying movement. I suspect this is going to become more prominent, and quite quickly. I’m looking forward to covering this more on my new beat. [The Guardian]

  • Lena Dunham in conversation with Russell Brand on fame, fallibility, creativity, and mental health is deeply enjoyable. (Yes, I know, many people hate both of them. Most of those people, I find, have a pretty superficial understanding of their work.) [Under the Skin]

  • In case you need it: AOC’s self pep talk from the Netflix doc about her campaign is everything you need.

Lifestyle endorsement

Donate to Planned Parenthood or a similar organization. The restriction of abortion rights happening in the US is, I believe, a form of violence against women. I think often about how lucky I am to live in a country where reproductive rights are not politicized/imperiled (yet), which is why I donate monthly. If you’re able to, I really encourage you to do the same.

Word Soup

“Walking is in and of itself a practice in empathy, which is the only thing I seek to produce in my work. You spend time walking the streets, and you cannot ignore what you see in them. The pain, the joy, the hope are all there in front of you. You see who is riding the bus, and who is walking past those people with blinders, rendering them invisible. It is a practice of self-awareness and a ward against isolation, a routine of belonging.” —Judnick Maynard

(Thanks for reading. If you enjoy this newsletter, you can help me immensely by getting more people to subscribe to it. Forward it to your friends! Tell your social media herd! You can find the subscribe page here.)

Pick yourself

And other things I learned about work from my dad

My dad worked his last corporate “work day” recently. By some arbitrary capitalist benchmark, he retired—though I don’t expect he’ll be adopting that concept any time soon.

In my eyes at least, my dad has always been ahead of the curve, the economy, the cultural moment—and I fully expect he will continue to do so from here, at least in his own way. This is, after all, a man who started out driving bands around in vans in the midlands of England and ended up working for his childhood idol. (He was also once named in a New Yorker profile of said idol; I’m still not over it.) He watched Napster and then iTunes and then Spotify cannibalize the industry he had worked in for decades and, instead of finding a new profession like many of his peers, he embraced a new challenge. I even distinctly remember watching him craft a ‘personal brand’ when most millennials were still in middle school.

Indeed, a lot of what I know about hard work, creativity, and (self) employment I learned from him (and a healthy dose from my mom too, who is a creative force in her own right). The privilege of having two parents who not only understand the slightly off-kilter mindset it takes to pursue a creative life, but have also actively encouraged me to go for it myself is something I think about a lot. It’s safe to say I wouldn’t have the career I do without them. 

In honor of this particular transition, it feels only fair to pass on some of my dad’s nuggets of wisdom. Here is what he has taught me about Doing The Work. 

  • Newsflash: No one is going to give you permission! If you want to do something, create something, start something, you have to pick yourself. It’s hard and uncomfortable and feels totally absurd at first. But it’s literally the only way forward. (credit also goes to Seth Godin for this one, as well as for the image above.)

  • Relatedly, as a creative person, it doesn’t matter who your client, your employer, or the company you work for is—first and foremost, you work for yourself. You forget that at your own peril.

  • Underpromise; overdeliver. 

  • When you need to get paid, don’t ask your client or editor where the payment is—ask who the accounts person is. They are your new best friend.

  • It doesn’t matter if you work at a deli or as a personal assistant or an executive at a record label: Make yourself indispensable. It has a way of speaking for itself.

  • Don’t just get in touch with people when you need something from them. Part of your job as a creative person is to sincerely care about other people’s hustles—and help them wherever and whenever you can!—so that in turn, they will care about yours. This isn’t strategic self interest, it’s generosity.

  • ABFU: Always be following up. It’s not magic: the more religious you are about doing it (politely, of course), the more it works.

  • And to quote my dad’s farewell email to his company: “It all starts with the music ... and it still does, no matter the medium.” In other words, there is no shortcut. If your number one priority is not making good art, your efforts to sell that art will probably fall flat. It’s as simple (and as hard) as that.

Things I wrote:

  • Last year I started following a baby chimpanzee named Limbani on Instagram. I loved him. But then I realized that a baby chimpanzee probably shouldn’t be on Instagram at all. So I did a lot of reporting and wrote about the surprising (and sad) reality of following exotic animals on Instagram. I’m glad this piece finally got to see the light of day, because it took a while.

  • Have you noticed how everyone is trying so damn hard these days? I wrote a pretty wild think-piece about whether we are due for a cultural reemergence of the slacker once influencer culture reaches its logical conclusion. I love an opportunity to blame things on neoliberalism, which I do profligately in this piece. (h/t to my unparalleled editor Indrani for making this piece make sense).

  • I’m still on the Bad Cruise News beat. A frightening bottom line: There are a whole litany of reasons a lifeboat is not as much of a failsafe as cruisers would like to think it is.

  • I’ve also been writing for Quartz’s premium edition (which is paywalled; you can get a free trial here). Stories have included why the conscious consumerism movement has largely ignored air travel, how to fly with two passports correctly, and truly practical advice for getting an airline upgrade.

Things I read:

  • Behold, corporate yoga teacher training which resembles a multi-level marketing scheme. [NY Times]

  • Supermarkets in Britain are truly a delight in my opinion (at least compared to America). I enjoyed this deep dive into the effect that Aldi has had on the way Brits shop. [Guardian Longread]

  • On how it feels to eviscerate Facebook at the TED Conference, where Facebook is a sponsor. [Guardian]

  • This is extremely stressful to read if you are a reporter that has ever dealt with lawyers vetting your work pre-publication (hi). However, it provides great insight into the ways that legal threats from rich and powerful people can sometimes prevent good journalism from seeing the light of day in ways I don’t think the public realizes. [NY Mag]

  • Coincidentally, before Julian Assange got arrested this month, I re-read this totally bonkers profile of him, written by his ghostwriter before he went under house arrest. It’s a wild, long ride and it’s totally worth your time. [LRB]

  • On the Miami real estate market’s bonkers attitude to climate change, summed up as: “I am afraid of dying, sure, but so far, it hasn’t been an issue.” [Popula]

  • I keep visualizing this sentence from this beautiful piece about what happens as a whale carcass decays on the bottom of the ocean floor: “Fluffy pink anemones swayed at their peaks, presaging the whale’s future as a reef.” [The New Yorker]

Things I listened to:

  • I am just about the last person to enjoy a podcast produced by a large social network but … LinkedIn’s Hello Monday series is really great! (Predictably, I especially loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s episode). [LinkedIn]

  • KPCC’s “The Big One” is terrifying and great and has got me thinking about low-key doomsday prepping (though it was more for the purposes of a no-deal Brexit, rather than a huge earthquake on the San Andreas fault.) [KPCC]

  • Last Days of August. I’ve been on a bit of a Jon Ronson binge recently. This is storytelling that feels both engrossing but also ethically responsible, unlike so much true crime podcasting genre these days. [Last Days of August]

Lifestyle tip:

It’s very much spring! Celebrate by putting grapefruit and pistachios and mint in your salad! (Also, god bless Growing Communities’ seasonal recipes, which are a source of great kitchen creativity for me.)

Word soup:

“There is no evidence that we've been placed on this planet to be especially happy or especially normal. And in fact our unhappiness and our strangeness, our anxieties and compulsions, those least fashionable aspects of our personalities, are quite often what lead us to do rather interesting things.” —Jon Ronson

“There’s always a story. It’s all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story. Change the world.” —Terry Pratchett

(Thanks for reading. If you enjoy this newsletter, you can help me immensely by getting more people to subscribe to it. Forward it to your friends! Tell your social media herd! You can find the subscribe page here.)

'Not the seeds that I planted'

The cherry blossom trees have started blooming in London, which to me always feels like a kind of religious experience after winter. I consider cherry blossoms in the same category as the deep emerald green of a mallard duck’s neck, the always-pleasantly-surprising fact that citrus fruit is in season in winter, and the stop-you-in-your-tracks smell of a jasmine bush. In other words: Evidence that whatever serves as the organizing intelligence for the universe really wants us to stop and smell the proverbial roses.

But it also feels disorienting, because as the pink petals bloom, living in Britain feels so heavy and awful right now. Each day I spend an hour trying to understand what the actual fuck is going on with Brexit, in a kind of kafkaesque groundhog day that feels like it will never end—because it probably won’t! Then there’s the terror attacks and the plane crashes and all the rest.

I think it’s important to acknowledge sometimes, as one writer did recently, that it’s totally normal for all this to make you feel truly, viscerally shitty. I mostly counteract this by celebrating the tiny triumphs—a friend who deserves it being happy in their new relationship, a partner succeeding in their career, getting a nice email from a reader—but man, it’s been hard recently.

That said, my friend Philippa unwittingly reminded me of another mental way to counteract the madness. A few years ago Philippa bought a small farm from a sad old man outside Barcelona, and has been teaching herself the principles of sustainable agro-ecology as she grows her own food and tends the farm with her partner. Her Instagram is often full of the delights of this effort. A few weeks ago she posted about some tomato plants that had sprouted up all on their own, without any effort on her part: “The best tomatoes are the ones that just came up by themselves, not the seeds that I planted.”

As the people in charge of this country continue to monumentally fuck everything up with a commitment to madness that would honestly be impressive if it weren’t so destructive, there is some solace and maybe even instruction to be found in the things that will happen without any human intervention. At least for the short-term future, cherry blossoms will bloom, tomato plants will grow, the sun will come up—whether it’s a deal or no deal. It doesn’t give me hope, necessarily, but it’s something to perhaps shift my focus towards.

Things I wrote:

  • I frequently cover Airbnb, and over the past few months—as the company prepares for a rumored IPO—I have found myself wondering: What even is Airbnb anymore? I wrote a feature trying to answer that question.

  • Judging by the readership and responses to this, a lot of people agree that conflating romantic love/partnership with sleeping in the same bed as another person for the rest of your goddamn life is completely insane.

  • Please, if you’re going to ask me for advice on where to go for your vacation, read this first.

  • Tourist taxes to deter “low value, high impact” travelers are now a thing.

  • For Quartz’s 2050 project, I wrote about whether the future of housing may mean accepting that housing isn’t permanent.

  • On the merits of pursuing career greatness “behind the scenes".

  • One thing I really endorse: using some of your vacation time to complete life admin. It sounds depressing but it is totally effective.

  • In keeping with my obsession, I wrote an Obsession email about the business model of cruise ships.

  • I also did some radio talking! I went on Monocle Live radio to talk about what makes a good (and terrible) tourism slogan, and went on NPR to talk more about my favorite scam of 2019: Celery juice.

    Things I read

  • I am enjoying The Cut’s Get that Money pop-up blog. Particularly this on why secretly rich people are more annoying than blatantly rich people and this with Aminatou Sow on being unapologetic about how you make money. [The Cut].

  • “We seem to believe, against all evidence, that nature is entirely benevolent.” [The Guardian]

  • I never pass up an opportunity to point out the insanity of wedding culture. [NYT]

  • The astonishing scam of American student loans. [BuzzFeed]

  • “It’s not resistance—it’s reporting.” A profile of New Yorker investigative reporter Jane Mayer, who gets way less attention than Ronan Farrow but has been doing it for way longer. [Elle]

  • “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” [Medium]

Things I listened to + watched

  • A conversation between two editors of the New Yorker: Tina Brown and David Remnick. I really feel like Brown doesn’t get enough credit for for hiring, like, every single great New Yorker byline (including Remnick) during her tenure. [TBD with Tina Brown]

  • I’m loving the “In Good Company” podcast which gets into the nitty gritty of how women have succeeded in their careers (and does the opposite of gloss over how things like family connections, privilege, and race all play a huge role). This episode with Reni Eddo Lodge should be sent to anyone who romanticizes being a successful author/freelancer. [In Good Company]

  • The Guardian on knife crime’s connection to poverty/austerity is a really great (and devastating) portrait of modern Britain. [Guardian]

  • This shed some light on a question I’ve long wondered: Why do American evangelical Christians have such strong support for Israel? [VICE]

Lifestyle endorsement

Buy a new mattress! I have been sleeping on second hand mattresses for the entirety of my twenties, so after listening to about 967 podcast ad spots, I finally bought a Casper mattress. Since then, my main thought has been: Why the hell did I wait so long? Sleep is important; get a good mattress. (No, this is not sponsored because I’m not an #influencer—but I am a card carrying millennial who now believes in the Casper hype).

Word soup:

“And everything seemed connected—the street’s sounds and Ray Charles’ voice and his piano and my daddy’s hand and my sister’s silhouette and the sounds and the light coming from the kitchen. It was as though we were a picture, trapped in time: this had been happening for hundreds of years, people sitting in a room, waiting for dinner, and listening to the blues.” "—From If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin.

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